Whether you’re trying to shed some post-baby pounds or just get back in shape, losing weight has never been easier. “We know so much more about dieting—and keeping the weight off—than we did five years ago,” says Susan Head, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist specializing in weight management in Durham, North Carolina. The latest studies prove that a weight-loss plan doesn’t have to be strict and unforgiving to work. Experts now believe that helping dieters adopt small lifestyle changes is more effective than forcing them to radically overhaul their eating habits. Want a taste? Try these ten proven principles.
Rule 1: Get Really Psyched
If you’re not mentally prepared before you dive into a diet, you’re more likely to mount a halfhearted effort and suffer the inevitable consequence: regaining the weight. Kelly D. Brownell, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Yale University, recommends asking yourself two questions: “Compared to the last time I dieted, how motivated am I now?” And, “Do I see myself being committed for the weeks, months, or years it will take to reach my goal?” If you can honestly answer “Very!” and “Yes!”—youʼre on the right track.
Lacking motivation? Head suggests listing the cons of staying at your present weight, such as low energy, not fitting into your favorite jeans, or feeling winded when you exercise.
Still, enthusiasm only goes so far. “It doesn’t matter how motivated you are if your new diet and exercise changes don’t match your current values or lifestyle,” says Head. Before deciding to walk to work every morning, for example, ask yourself why you didn’t do it before, and anticipate how this change is going to affect your life. Will the extra time it takes disrupt your work schedule? If so, maybe you should consider exercising after work or during lunch.
Rule 2: Set Modest Goals
Aim to lose just 10 percent of your body weight by burning 3,500 to 7,000 calories (the equivalent of one to two pounds) per week more than you consume. And give yourself a minimum of six months. Even clinically obese patients are advised to stick to that humble objective. “It’s just not possible for most people to lose more,” says Gary Foster, Ph.D., clinical director of the Weight and Eating Disorders Program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “Even if you could, studies suggest you’ll be more likely to gain it back.”
Losing so little over such a long time may seem like a small achievement, but “healthwise, it’s a major improvement,” says G. Ken Goodrick, Ph.D., director of the Weight and Energy Program at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “It reduces your risk of a host of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, and some cancers.” Experts also advise maintaining the new weight for six months before deciding whether you want to lose more.
Rule 3: Eat!
When it comes to weight loss, “many people still think eating as little as possible is best,” says C. Wayne Callaway, M.D., an associate clinical professor of medicine at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “They skip breakfast and have a light lunch, then have trouble controlling their hunger at night,” he says. To break the binge cycle, eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day at regular times, even if you’re not hungry (you soon will be). And make sure those meals are nutritionally adequate. “Your goal should be to eat enough protein, fat, and fiber-rich complex carbohydrates at each meal so that you don’t feel deprived,” Dr. Callaway says. (Think a palm-size serving of fish, skinless chicken breast, or lean red meat with vegetables and whole grains filling the rest of the plate.)
Rule 4: Seek Support
Stress management techniques such as deep breathing, guided imagery, meditation and/or exercise are extremely helpful weight-management tools, says Goodrick, especially if you tend to overeat when you’re depressed, stressed, or bored. Experiment until you find a method that works for you. Surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family is also important. “They can help you solidify your commitment and avoid diet pitfalls,” says Goodrick. If your relatives, friends, or officemates know you’re dieting, for instance, they’ll be less likely to push their bag of potato chips. Even after you’ve reached your goal, a support network can keep you on track.
Rule 5: Keep Moving
“In study after study, people who exercise maintain their weight loss longer,” says Holly Wyatt, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Health Science Center in Denver. In fact, in one study of 3,000 people who lost at least 30 pounds and kept them off for a year or more, 90 percent said they were using exercise as a way to maintain their newfound weight. An hour a day was the norm. Sound like a lot? The good news is that everything counts—taking the stairs with a basket of laundry, running after a two-year-old, etc. The bad news? “Studies also show that exercise alone doesn’t help you slim down,” says Dr. Wyatt. In other words, you’ll still need to count calories and watch portions.
Rule 6: Fat is Your Friend
“Most people can’t stick to a very low-fat diet for long,” says Kathy McManus, R.D., director of nutrition at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Her most recent study, published in The International Journal of Obesity, found that people who followed a portion-controlled moderate-fat diet maintained their weight loss longer than those who got only 20 percent of their calories from fat. The type of fat you choose is essential. Opt for heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, found in olive oil, nuts, avocado, and seafood.
Rule 7: Snack Judiciously
David Levitsky, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell University, has found that snackers eat the same amount at meals as nonsnackers, so they end up eating more total calories by day’s end. Small snacks—about two per day, each under 200 calories—do help ward off hunger, making them an essential part of any diet, but snacking on a whole box of cereal while struggling to meet a deadline or passing the time with your toddler isn’t a good idea.
Rule 8: Indulge Moderately
In her book, “Eating Thin for Life,” which surveyed the diet habits of 208 people who lost an average of 64 pounds, Anne Fletcher, R.D., found that successful dieters didn’t deprive themselves of foods they craved or loved. “But they have control systems for preventing an all-out binge,” Fletcher says. What strategies seemed to work? Keeping the sweets and other treats out of the house so you’re not facing continual temptation, buying bite-size candy to limit caloric damage, and budgeting your calorie intake over the course of a day or even a week to allow for unexpected indulgences.
Rule 9: Replace a Meal
A recent study published in the “Archives of Internal Medicine” found those who used low-calorie meal replacements in addition to following a balanced diet lost more weight and kept it off longer than those who didn’t. Meal replacements work because portion sizes and calories are controlled, say researchers. Look for shakes or bars that offer no more than seven grams of fat, at least 300 calories, 10 grams of protein, and 25 grams of carbs, plus some fiber. And remember, they’re meant to replace meals, not to be consumed with meals or as on-the-go snacks.
Rule 10: Keep Your Scale
“Weighing yourself weekly is key for long-term success,” says Wyatt. “It helps clue you in to any relapse.” If you gain five pounds or more, she advises immediate action. “Identify where you may have slipped—and lose those few extra pounds within the month,” she says.
Sandra Gordon writes about health, nutrition, parenting, and consumer issues for leading magazines and websites.
Filed Under: Wellness
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